Hell Hath No Fury (Part One)
Come take a little ride on my journey of liberation ...
In 1985, I spent 6th Grade at Lincoln Elementary School boxed in.
Literally. Boxed. In.
My desk was in the Northeast corner of the room and a 10 foot long, 5 foot tall row of heavy boxes behind my desk and I segregated me from the rest of the class, and cut off 100% of the natural sunlight and 50% of the florescent light the rest of the kids enjoyed. The only person that could see me was the teacher to my immediate left.
According to the pedagogical clergy, I was placed in Purgatory for the unforgivable sin of being bored, and bored kids distract other bored kids. Perhaps even a few of the "promising" kids, too. I spent 5th Grade being a class clown and racking up two semesters worth of "E"s and "F"s out of the sheer fucking boredom and being offended about the entire rubric of "homework" to the point where I didn't do it. Marked it incomplete. And my 5th grade teacher at Hurd Road Elementary School -- whom I assumed would flunk my sorry ass hard! -- actually passed me. For the first semester or two at Lincoln for the 6th grade, I complied and did the work, but eventually the same pattern set it. The only damned things I cared about -- because I knew the curriculum already and I would discover over 40 years later that Monroe Michigan has a long sordid history of absolutely destroying anyone with with Asperger's/Autism Spectrum Disorder, including me and both my parents -- was entertaining people in any way possible and video games. I blame the video games on Judy Richard's father who showed a mesmerized 4 year old kid in 1978 something that little shit could never understand until he was a little bit older: Space Invaders and the Atari VCS 2600. That little shit was never the same ...
By Summer of 1983, my parents finally bought an Atari that we wouldn't see until Christmas. I wouldn't find out until later that the $149.99 Kmart price tag was invalid -- Mom had put it on layaway at that price along with a few other games, and as the market crashed, so did the amount she had to pay. One day she went to pay on the layaway and the Kmart clerk handed her the Atari and all the games and said, "It's yours now!" to her utter surprise. Here is a woman -- a nurse's aide since 1976 -- making slightly above minimum wage right alongside her husband busting their asses to pay and bring home $300 worth in technology home to 6 kids and not only is it going to cost them less than half that, they now had the money to buy my 9 year old freak ass the computer I'd been raving about: the TI-99-4A! That computer was expensive -- not as much as a Commodore 64 -- but expensive for my poor working class parents. To a child with ASD who wouldn't know it until his mid 40s (and to parents with ASD who never would), that Christmas was special in so many ways that the novelty hadn't worn off even by 1985 or 1986 or ever ...
Come graduation day, my 6th grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary -- her name was Norma Peters -- took me out in the hall to explain my report card and my future by telling me that I wasn't necessarily "passed" again like my Hurd Road 5th grade teacher -- the late (and great) Blaine March did -- but instead I was being "placed in a self-contained class for the Emotionally Impaired" for the 7th grade and would belong to the MCISD -- the Monroe County Intermediate School District -- for the foreseeable future.
I was no longer wanted in general education. (Gee, I think the segregation in a dark corner gave me that fucking idea quite clearly).
No, I was going to ride ... the short bus for 7th Grade! Hot damn! Didn't realize at the time it was going to be a looooong bus ride!
And not in the Monroe School district -- I would be going to Mason Consolidated some 10 miles south!
When the 1987 school year started, gone was the yellow bus with bad shocks, and up pulled a white van instead. This white van would then pick everyone else up and drop us off at the Hi-Lite supermarket where either a blue van or a short yellow bus with "Mason Consolidated Schools" emblazoned on the side -- and a lovely 70+ year old named Maggie -- would pick us up for the rest of the trip. For the next 2 years, I would ride this white van and Maggie's van/short bus to my "tart class" in 1987 at Mason Elementary where I'd get my first taste of Probation when the broken necklace I threw lashed a school aide on the arm which led to me being frogmarched out in handcuffs, and the 1988/89 school year at Mason North Day Treatment where I would violate my probation by kicking some kid in the face, and that earned me some 7 or 8 months in the Monroe County Youth Center for violating my probation.
After leaving the MCYC, I would start the 1990/1991 school year back home at Monroe High School in the same damned ISD "self-contained" class that I couldn't escape no matter what. And what didn't help matters much was my final teacher at Mason fucked up. Her name was Martha and by that year, instead of writing down a decimal value for my credits, she has simply typed "Yes" in the freakin' box. So, I started high school inside the same MCSID classroom with staff who had no fucking idea when -- let alone how -- I'd graduate. They didn't know how many credits I had so they started with review. A review based on my 7th grade IEP ... here we go again with the fucking boredom. Here I am doing percentages and fractions in the 9th grade while others (and my best friend in the Jefferson district I had left since Hurd Road) was doing calculus and shit. I protested and rebelled. I was told by both Martha and later Ms. Koski that it was good review and had to do it if I ever wanted to work my way out of the ISD's clutches ...
I had a lightbulb moment: if this shit was based on my last IEP, then I need to scour the IEP documentation. Because if I'd been on the ISD's plantation for over 5 years with no change or improvement whatsoever and they still keep passing me without turning in a drop of school work, then obviously something is amiss and my salvation and my escape hatch was mostly likely buried in the IEP documentation. And I fucking found it: a check box on the form that says, "I do no agree with the MCISD's conclusions and demand a new IEP Meeting with all parties involved," and below that a much smaller check box that said, "I hereby disagree with the MCISD's conclusions and hereby terminate my child's enrollment into the MCISD system. I understand that checking this box also means my child will begin the next school year in general education."
My mother could've rejected this from the start but a combination of her upbringing/"programming" and Asperger's/ASD along with societal propaganda had convinced her and my father that teachers are always right ... even when they're full of shit ... no ... especially when they're full of shit. They were of the belief that if somebody at school had to paddle your ass, your ass needed another paddling once you came home. Likewise, she had swallowed the "gotta work your way out" propaganda. So, if I were going to convince Mom to reject and cancel the MCISD out of our lives once and for all, my work was cut out for me.
I had prepared for a long haul knowing my parents (who both had Virgo Moons in their astro chart, if those details wet your particular whistle) but a miracle landed in my lap. I was visiting the local library researching "self-contained" classrooms and the MCISD's "emotional impaired" bullshit I was mired in for just shy of a decade which made no sense to me at all because I was chucking chairs and desks in frustration and rebellion, and when a teenager starts chucking desks and chairs and ends up riding the short bus because he kept beating the shit out those who rode the long bus (read: jocks and football players, much to Coach Michaels' chagrin), that is indeed a number of things but "emotional impairment" isn't fucking among them. Rebellion isn't a happy accident. Something triggers it. Identify the triggers, address the issues, solve the problem! Not complicated at all.
And so I had asked a gentleman at the library's "Research Lab" whom I would later realize was the IT Head of the entire county's library system named Kip DeGraff, "I'm trying to find anything on how to get out of the MCISD's class room and back into general education." Kip simply gave me a wry grin and a copy of the latest Wall Street Journal's editorial page ... and my jaw dropped …
I QUIT, I THINK
Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history. It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents. The whole blueprint of school procedure is Egyptian, not Greek or Roman. It grows from the theological idea that human value is a scarce thing, represented symbolically by the narrow peak of a pyramid.
That idea passed into American history through the Puritans. It found its "scientific" presentation in the bell curve, along which talent supposedly apportions itself by some Iron Law of Biology. It’s a religious notion, School is its church. I offer rituals to keep heresy at bay. I provide documentation to justify the heavenly pyramid.
Socrates foresaw if teaching became a formal profession, something like this would happen. Professional interest is served by making what is easy to do seem hard; by subordinating the laity to the priesthood. School is too vital a jobs-project, contract giver and protector of the social order to allow itself to be "re-formed." It has political allies to guard its marches, that’s why reforms come and go without changing much. Even reformers can’t imagine school much different.
David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are 13, you can’t tell which one learned first—the five-year spread means nothing at all. But in school I label Rachel "learning disabled" and slow David down a bit, too. For a paycheck, I adjust David to depend on me to tell him when to go and stop. He won’t outgrow that dependency. I identify Rachel as discount merchandise, "special education" fodder. She’ll be locked in her place forever.
In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination. They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling.
That’s the secret behind short-answer tests, bells, uniform time blocks, age grading, standardization, and all the rest of the school religion punishing our nation. There isn’t a right way to become educated; there are as many ways as fingerprints. We don’t need state-certified teachers to make education happen—that probably guarantees it won’t.
How much more evidence is necessary? Good schools don’t need more money or a longer year; they need real free-market choices, variety that speaks to every need and runs risks. We don’t need a national curriculum or national testing either. Both initiatives arise from ignorance of how people learn or deliberate indifference to it. I can’t teach this way any longer. If you hear of a job where I don’t have to hurt kids to make a living, let me know. Come fall I’ll be looking for work.
The letter was entitled "I Quit, I Think" and written by New York Teacher Of The Year John Taylor Gatto ...
But that highlighted part ... that sparked something very liberating and dangerous. Rage. And if I was full of rage at the idea of being called "discount merchandise" some 6 or 7 years ago and "locked in my place forever" ... what's Mom gonna think?!? A mother whose Asperger's son held up both Mr. Gatto's essay and the 171 I had scored on my 5th Grade IQ Test?!? A mother with Cancer Sun, a Virgo moon, a checkered school history, and undiagnosed Asperger's of her own?!?
Hell hath no fury ...